Laoag workshop teaches people with autism self-expression thru art

LAOAG CITY — The doors of the spacious air-conditioned auditorium of the Laoag City Hall opened on Tuesday for people with autism (PWA) who filled every corner of the room with art.

Initiated by the Autism Society Philippines — Laoag Chapter — in partnership with the City Government of Laoag and the Ilocos Norte National High School—Special Program in the Arts — a learning activity dubbed as “AUsome Art Workshop” drew more than a hundred PWA who were encouraged to express their thoughts through art.

The participants, using various colors and strokes, turned blank papers into their own unique creation. Their face lit up as they finished their work of art and saw them posted later on the walls of the auditorium. Some of the captivating drawings depicted colorful sunsets, trees, rivers, animals and some, abstract paintings.

In seeing the participants’ ability rather than their disability, Genevieve Arcangel, president of the ASP-Laoag City Chapter, said “awareness and acceptance of these children with autism should start from us parents.”

Being a parent to a child with autism, she shared that many families with children like hers go through difficult challenges.

“If our regular children are being bullied, how much more our ‘special’ children? Sana, bawas bawasan natin ang paggamit ng mga salitang ‘abnormal’ or ‘hindi normal’ kasi masakit sa amin ‘yon na magulang ng bata. Maliit lang na bagay (I hope we could avoid using the words ‘abnormal’ or ‘not normal’ because it hurts us as parents of those children. It’s not a big thing) but it has big impact on us,” said Arcangel.

As president of the newly-created organization of the ASP in the city, she said she is thankful for the support of a growing number of autism advocates in the country.

In the Philippines, ASP estimates that about 1.2 Filipinos belong to the autism spectrum. In 2012, there were reportedly only about half a million.

“We need more support and collaboration because we can’t do it on our own,” said Arcangel as she reported that they have prepared a series of activities in support of the observance this week of the National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week.

Being a nurse by profession, Arcangel said it is easier to manage a child with autism if it is detected early.

“The first three years of life of a child is the most crucial. Once there are indicators of a child’s neurological disorder or disease of the brain, we should seek professional help already in order for the child to catch up,” she explained.

For Archangel’s 16-year-old son, his signs of autism showed when he was younger. He is non-verbal but he can utter words.

During Tuesday’s art workshop, participated in by at least three public and private schools in the city, the stakeholders joined hands to instill public awareness on autism.

The autistic community prefers to treat autism not as a disorder or sickness, but an inborn condition.

“Seeing these angels doing their obra maestras truly captivated me. I always dream of living in a world that is fair and equal and now I am starting to see this kind of world,” said Rogie Balino, a youth volunteer in Laoag City, who helped in the conduct of the workshop.